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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                  271
which, in their panic, the German forces had already
named "'black death". The new machines, brought into
being by the genius of a fighting people, immensely com-
plicated the art of air fighting and called for not only
knowledge of the machine the airman was handling, and
not only indomitable daring, but also ability quickly to
find one's bearings in the air, to divide an air battle into
its component parts and, independently, without waiting
for orders, to adopt combat decisions and carry them out.
All this was extremely interesting. But fierce and on-
relaxing offensive fighting was proceeding at the front,
and while sitting in the bright and lofty class-room at a
comfortable, black-topped desk listening to the lectures,
Alexei Meresyev longed painfully to be at the front,
yearned for the atmosphere of the fighting line. He had
learned to overcome physical pain, he was able to com-
pel himself to perform what seemed impossible, but he
lacked the will-power to overcome the ennui of enforced
idleness, and sometimes for weeks he would roam about
the school, morose, absent-minded and bad-humoured.
Fortunately for Alexei, Major Struchkov was at the
school at the same time as he. They had met like old
friends. Struchkov arrived about two weeks after Alexei,
but he at once plunged into the life of the school, adapted
himself to its extremely strict rules that seemed so out
of place in war-time, and made himself at home with
everybody. He guessed the reason for Alexei's blue naood
at once, and on leaving the bath-room to go to their
sleeping quarters at night he would dig Alexei in the
ribs good-humouredly and say:
"Don't grieve, old man! There'll be plenty of %hting
left for us! Look how far we are yet from Berlin! Miles
and miles to go. We'll have our share, don't you worry.
We'll have our fill of fighting."
The major had grown thin and aged during the two
or three months that they had not seen each other, he
looked "broken", as they said in the army.
In midwinter, the group to which Meresyev aad
Struchkov belonged commenced flying practice. By this
time Alexei was thoroughly familiar with the "La-5", the
small, short-winged plane, the shape of which reminded
one of a flying fish. Often, during recess, he would go to